An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXIX.

London, May 16, 17--.

[p. 1] The moment I was informed of Mr. Quin's return to town, I waited on him to apologize for the unpardonable neglect I had been guilty of in leaving England without paying my respects to him. I found at his apartments Sir George (since Lord) Lyttelton, Thomson, Mallet, and Smollett1. As I had been already introduced to those gentlemen, and was upon a footing of intimacy with them, I was not sorry at their being present upon the occasion. Having saluted him, I assured him that I was happy in the opportunity of clearing myself of the error I had committed, before his friends, who had honoured me with their notice upon his account. I acknowledged that appearances were against me; yet, though they were [p. 2] but appearances, I dreaded his censure for them, more than that of the whole world. I conjured him at the same time, to acquit me of the sin of ingratitude, which, though he may have judged me guilty of it, my heart was utterly incapable of.

Whether sincerity spoke in my eyes, and pleaded by cause for me, I cannot say; but he immediately gave me a kiss of reconciliation; saying after he had done so, "My dear girl, I was hurt at your contempt and inattention, as I sincerely had your welfare at heart." Notwithstanding this seeming cordiality gave me pleasure, the word had, on which he laid an emphasis, alarmed my fears, and prevented my being so happy as I should otherwise have been. The gentlemen in company were all glad to see me, especially Thomson, who enquired for his relation and my friend, Mrs. Jackson. But I could give him no information, as she had retired into the country, and all my attempts to find her out had been ineffectual. Mr.Quin advised me to make my appearance in Belvidera. And as I had not a doubt of succeeding in any character I undertook, it was equal to me what was fixed on.

Upon our settling in lodgings, Miss O'Hara, Lord Tyrawley's eldest daughter, who be some means or other had disobliged his Lordship, came to live with us. This circumstance was very agreeable to me, as well as to my [p. 3] mother. She in particular was pleased with it. For as she was now entirely engrossed by her meditations, which were usually employed on two different subjects, namely her favourite Mr. Crump, and the approach of a more agreeable figure called death, she was glad I had a companion in whose friendship she could rely, and who would forward her wish; that of uniting me to Mr. Crump. One day my mother being more than usually importunate on this subject, I was so displeased at the odious topic, that I answered with great warmth, "I wish, Madame, you would marry him yourself. I can have no objection to him for a father-in-law; but have a most insuperable one to him for a husband." My asperity seemed to grieve my mother much more than it had ever done before. A few months, however, declared her motives, and made her unhappy the rest of her days.

Mrs. Woffington played the first night with her usual eclat, in the character proposed. Mrs Ward soon followed. Her beautiful face and novelty insured her applause at her first appearance. But her situation, as well as her figure, being against her, she did not conclude the part of Cordelia, with any degree of credit. Mr. Garrick stood unrivaleld in Lear, but as Mrs. Ward's acting did not tend much to the support of the piece, it was not repearted. The great [p. 4] veteran Quin had not made any of Shakpeare's characters his study, except that of Falstaff, in which he was inimitable, and that of Henry the Eight, in which he likewise excelled.

Though Mr. Quin appeared to be reconciled to me, I found, to my sorrow, that he did not treat me with that conspicuous tenderness and regard he had formerly shewn me. His behaviour to me then, as I have already observed, was more like that of a fond father towards his darling child, than of a mere well-wisher. I was now invited but seldom to those envied parties, which at once flattered my vanity, and enlightened my understanding. And although I had at this time many more admirers, he discontinued to favour me with his advice and cordial regard.

Notwithstanding a timid apprehensive modesty is commendable in the younger part of the fair sex, yet this amiable virtue might be carried to a detrimental extreme. A consciousness of rectitude, even where appearances are greatly against them, will support the innocent under the most discouraging censures; and not only support under them, but stimulate to a due exertion of every means in their power, towards their vindication. --- Bold in the purity of my intentions, and conscious that I had not offended, even in thought, against the sacred laws of chastity, [p. 5] though carried off by the contrivance of an avowed admirer, I should have contemned the sneers of the prude, the exultations of the coquette, the pity of the seeming virtuous, and the censures of the whole world. By so doing I should, probably, have soon been able to vindicate my conduct to my friends, and have recovered the character I had so undeservedly lost. -- As the noxious dews of the night, are exhaled by the earliest rays of the sun, so would the scandal with which I was loaded have been quickly dispersed by the disciminating beams of truth. but, unhappily, a false delicacy prompted me to fly from, instead of repelling the casual attack; and by it, among other inconveniences and misfortunes, I lost the favour and affection of this worthiest of men.

At length I was soon announced to bring up the rear of our theatrical forces in the character of Belvidera.2. When, to my great suprize, instead of the crowded house, I had flattered myself with playing to, it was far from full. This was the more mortifying, as it was unexpected. My own reception, indeed, was as warm as it had ever been; but still I was dissatisfied. At the conclusion of the piece, however, Mr. Town, whom I have already taken notice of, hearing another piece given out for the folowing evening, cried out, "The same! the dame!" The audience joined, as usual, in the cry; [p. 6] and by this eventaul stroke, the same play, Venice Preserved, was perfromed, for four successive nights, to crwded houses; and continued one of our most drawing performances to the conclusions of the season.

At this period it was customary to play Tamarlane on the fourth of November3. That day grew near; and neither Mrs. Woffington nor myself had been spoken to, relative to it. We were the more surprised at this silence, as Mr. Quin was reputed to be the best Bajazet that ever trod the stage. One evening, before the piece then performing was concluded, he sent to the green-room, desirig to speak with me in his dressing-room. I immediately rose from my seat, and went to the door; but hearing voices within, I stopped for some time, lest I should interrupt business, or be one too many. As I stood, I distinctly head The Fox say (for Volpone was then exhibiting), "Why, my Lord, we have Woffington at the receipt of custom, and who bids more! -- Ward, flatter than a half-baked pan-cake -- and little Bellamy as cold as ice, and as conceited as the devil."4

Having heard this fine eulogium, I waited till the laugh, which was partly at my expense, had subsided, and then made my appearance. I found, on my entrance, Lord Orford5 and Thomson, who contantly attended his friend, Quin, and who had [p. 7] brought Shenstone6, so much admired for his pastorals, to make his bow. As soon as Mr. Quiin saw me, he thus accosted me: "My dear girl, I have a favour to beg of you, and desire you will not deny me." I instantly replied, "You can make but one request, Mr Quin, relative to the theatre, which I can refuse you; and I beg you will not give me so sensible a pain, as that of not being able to acquiesce in every request of yours." He returned, with a frown, "It is what you point at, and you had better comply with a good grace, for you shall and must do it."

This threat, as my disposition is not framed to bear compulsion, nettled me so much, that with the air of queen Catherine, I said, "I revere you, sir, as a father, and esteem you as a friend; but if your request relates to Tamarlane, I must tell you, that little Bellamy has too much conceit to play Selima to such half-baked pan-cake as Ward." My assumed consequence so highly diverted the company, that good humour was immediately restored; and they joined in telling Quin, that, in order to have so amiable and spirited a daughter, he must comply with my wishes, and take the beautiful Woffington to wife. Mr. Quin was so pleased at this well timed retort, wherein I retaliated with such promptitude his severe description; and he was at the same time so charmed with my spirit, [p. 8] having hitherto thought me too placid; that he restored me, from that moment, to his favour and I presided the same night at supper, as usual.

When I found myself perfectly re-established in Mr. Quin's favour, I enquired of him the reason he had treated me with so much coolness, after he had assured me of his being reconciled to me, and as well convinced of my innocence and sincerity? He informed me, that my indiscretion in leaving a London theatre, after I had received so many marks of peculiar distinction from the public, deserved the severest reprobation. He added, that whoever had been my adviser upon the occasion was not my friend. As I had every reason to conclude myself the favourite child of the public, he said, they would certainly have cherished me; and it was treating them, as well as myself and him, ill, to desert them. That I could not avoid observing the difference of my present situation, and it would be a considerable time before I recovered the height from which I had fallen. That he felt the disappointment far more than I did, as he had set his heart upon my rivalling the women at the other house.

All the company present appeared to be of the same opinion. And as Mr. Quin's observations seemed to carry convinction with them, I preceived that I had been very [p. 9] imprudent in taking such a step without his assent. I went home, more oppressed by his friendship than I had been unhappy through his displeasure. And I from that moment formed a resolution to atone for my past indiscretion, by applying, with unremitted ardour, to the duties of my profession, and to consult my newly-recovered monitor, upon every concern of the least importance.

G. A. B

  1. These men are James Thomson, (1700-1748), the originally Scots poet of The Seasons who also wrote plays; George Lyttelton (1709-1773), poet and patron of the arts; David Mallet (1705-1765) Scottish poet, and Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), another writer whose origins were in Scotland, trained as a physician, his novels are still read and admired. Smollett describes Quin's lifestyle among his friends in Bath in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker.
  2. Belvidera was heroine of Otway's great tragic play, Venice Preserved, one of the most successful and significant of the plays of the Restoration, and should thus have attracted a full audience.
  3. In his Tamerlane, Nicholas Rowe is said to have alluded to William III and Louis XIV; Bajazet denounces the conqueror, and the play was performed regularly on the anniversary of William's landing at Torquay. Rowe was a strong Jacobite. See Brett Wilson, "Jane Shore and the Jacobites: Nicholas Rowe, the Pretender, and the National She-tragedy," ELH, 72:4 (2005): 823-843
  4. On the fable animal names of the characters of Ben Jonson's allegorical play, Volpone, see Ben Jonson, Volpone, 1606.
  5. Lord Orford is Horace Walpole (1717-1797).
  6. William Shenstone (114-1763) was another poet and essayist of the era who is now seen as part of the early romantic movement (sometimes referred to the age of sensibility).

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